Life Ascending: The Ten Great Inventions of Evolution. Nick Lane
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Life Ascending: The Ten Great Inventions of Evolution. Nick Lane

4.12 of 5 stars 4.12  ·  rating details  ·  1,307 ratings  ·  102 reviews
How did life invent itself? Where does DNA come from? Why do we die? Over the last decades, groundbreaking new research has provided vivid insights into the makeup of life.

Drawing on this wealth of new scientific knowledge, biochemist Nick Lane reconstructs the history of life by describing the ten greatest inventions of evolution, considering how each - from DNA to sex, f...more
Paperback, 344 pages
Published 2010 by Profile Books Ltd. (GB) (first published January 1st 2009)
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Courtney Johnston
How do I love this book? Let me count the ways ...

I love Nick Lane's tone, which manages to balance wit and clarity without overusing the analogy button:

Thermodynamics is one of those words best avoided in a book with any pretence to be popular, but it's more engaging if it's seen for what it is: the science of 'desire'. The existence of atoms and molecules is dominated by 'attractions', 'repulsions', 'wants' and 'discharges', to the point that it becomes virtually impossible to write about chem
...more
Mark
Life Ascending, winner of the 2010 Royal Society prize for popular science books, is one of the greatest of all time. The OEDB list of greatest popular science books is out of date. This is science on the cutting edge, championing theories that have been gaining attention slowly in recent years, among those interested in biology but not in the mass media. Techniques, equipment and insights started with the Human Genome Project, plus the ability to see and model ever tinier structures, have led t...more
Gendou
I had a lot of fun reading this book up until the end, when I started to worry about the author's propensity towards exaggeration and speculation.
For anyone who wants to learn about cutting edge speculation on the origin of life, Eukaryotas, and sex, it's definitely worth a read!
Anyone allergic to new-age nonsense sociology, just skip the last 9th chapter.
Everyone should take the last chapter with a very large grain of salt, because it's full of speculation, overblown claims, and other lies.

1. T...more
Gavin Drury
"I think that the picture painted in this book is true. Life most surely evolved, along the lines described here. That is not dogma, but evidence tested in reality and corrected accordingly. Whether this grand picture is compatible with faith in God, I do not know. For some people, intimately acquainted with evolution, it is; for others, it is not. But whatever our beliefs, this richness of understanding should be a cause for marvel and celebration. It is a most wonderful thing to share so much...more
Maurice
And how did consiousness rise from lifeless matter? His chapter about consciousness has some interesting things to say about that. With that I mean that is has become possible to observe the brain working, seeing specialised regions at work in the brain.
They see how the brain - while the person looks at an object- has 30 to 60 regions of specialised neurons firing. They only fire when their litle aspect is recognised.
E.g. we have neurons specialised in firing only when an object moves from left...more
Ben Mcfarland
This is the first book I've read by Nick Lane and I already know I'm going to read more. Lane approaches scientific controversy with a light hand, but he talks about the real issues and the real science going on. Lane is a practicing biochemist who writes popular science, and it shows. This book is framed around 10 "innovations" evolved by life: all the way from the origin of life to mitochondria to consciousness and death. A lot of the general issues I've become familiar with from the scientifi...more
Ralph Hermansen
"Life Ascending" by Dr. Nick Lane is a fascinating adventure. I would not recommend it to you as your first book on evolution and probably not as your second or third. However, if you have read enough to somewhat appreciate the role of DNA and genes in evolutionary science, then you will find this book very worth reading. The author is a biochemist and he looks at evolution through a biochemist's eyes. He stops short of introducing structural formulas of organic compounds and focuses more on des...more
Todd Martin
In “Life Ascending” Nick Lane discusses in what his opinion are the ten most important developments in evolutionary history. They are:
1. The origin of life.
2. DNA
3. Photosynthesis
4. The complex cell
5. Sex
6. Movement
7. Sight
8. Hot blood
9. Consciousness
10. Death
In each section Lane discusses what we know about the topic, then moves into more speculative and cutting edge research. He does a good job explaining the basics, but does not provide enough information to carry the reader through the end...more
Jennifer
I found this to be a mixed bag. I found some chapters such as Complex Cells and Hot Blood fascinating and others such as Movement and Consciousness quite tedious. The author does a good job of reducing complex biological processes into simpler terms but I felt he used weird analogies far too often to illustrate his point. When he started comparing muscle proteins into classical music I had to roll my eyes. In addition, a few more illustrations would be useful to show some concepts.
I was nice to...more
Cassandra Kay Silva
The details in this book are fascinating! Lots of fun speculation interwoven with intricate descriptions of various facets of living organisms on an almost chemical/cellular level. This makes it very distinct from other books on evolution as the author literally picks his random top favorite topics and just starts discussing. I listed to this on auido and it kind of felt like a podcast in the manner it was presented. It was really fun and I liked the reader a lot. This is a great one to throw on...more
Devin Jack
Nick Lane has created a long and detailed story about great "inventions" of evolution. Life Ascending goes from invention to invention, explaining and showing what they've done to change life.
Nick Lane talks about the world throughout time. He talks about Life, DNA, and photosynthesis. Four centuries ago, everything about life's emergance was a mystery. Systematic experiment and research has reduced the amount of riddles dramatically. It continues to talk about key features of the natural worl...more
Rusty
This is another of those reviews where I say I don't know how to review non-fiction books. So, here it is: I don't know how to review non-fiction books.

I can say two things about this. 1) It had a great deal of information that I was previously unaware of, and in that sense, it was miles beyond the book on evolution I read last year (Your Inner Fish) that I struggled to get through because so much of it was just soooo basic.

This one, while miles away from being difficult to read, did at least p...more
Charlene
This was one of the best books I have ever had the pleasure to read. If you like a book that delves deep into every tiny detail, this is the book for you. If things like ATP, leaky mitochondria, bacteria that can live in strange conditions, how DNA was discovered (and how Crick thought aliens put it on Earth), you will enjoy Lane's wonderful adventure of how life came to be. The science in this book was outstanding.
Michael Kenning
Whether you accept the theory of evolution or not, one thing that puzzles all who dare think about life is its complexity. It certainly perplexed me. This book is the antidote to that condition.

Nick Lane's descriptions of the theories behind the evolution of movement, photosynthesis, respiration, etc., are not condescending. What impressed me most is the use of natural language to express scientific theories unequivocally. This is encouraging. It's the kind of communication which is vital in ens...more
Uyar
"yasamin yukselisi" seklinde turkceye kazandirilmis cok onemli bir kitap.. tesekkurler ebru kilic... hayatin olusumu ve evrimin "basarisi" uzerine 10 farkli temayi incelemis. aslinda farkli demek dogru degil.. ilk temalari koken, dna, fotosentez ve karmasik hucre bolumleri cok ama cok basrili.. biraz teknik bolumler olsa da konuya merakli herkesin zevkle okuyacagi bolumler... primordiyal corbadan ziyade baca ve menfezler benim cok ilgimi cekti mesela... yazar N Lane bir biyokimyaci oldugundan bu...more
Jason Mills
Jan 31, 2011 Jason Mills rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Anyone who thinks science is a good thing
Recommended to Jason by: The Royal Society
This is a thrilling book. Lane picks 10 milestones in evolution and explores their biochemistry. These landmarks are: the origin of life, DNA, photosynthesis, the complex cell, sex, movement, sight, hot blood, consciousness and death. He presents the problems, the research, the contending hypotheses and his careful conclusions, all in a depth of detail that flatters the reader's intellect (this reader's anyway!), yet remains eminently comprehensible throughout. The arguments and explanations are...more
John
I could read clear writing 4 eva! I actually think that reading popular science prose effects my brain, all-be-it temporarily. For a while after I feel precise and lucid. I see things as components; bread, peanut butter, jam.
Unfortunately, the information contained therein is also fleeting. I found this out to my dismay when I was starting to explain some fascinating discoveries from this book about genes to Theo, and found I couldn't string a coherent sentence together. I lacked the active voca...more
Harry Rutherford
The ten ‘inventions’ are: The origin of life, DNA, photosynthesis, the complex cell, sex, movement, sight, hot blood, consciousness and death. Lane explains how each of these work and how they evolved, at least as far as current knowledge can take us — which in some cases, like the origin of life, is apparently rather further than I had realised. The consciousness chapter, if you’re wondering, was rather less persuasive.

What sets this book apart from most popular accounts of evolution is that Ni...more
Avi Roy
Nick Lane proves yet again that hardcore scientists (in this case a biochemist) can pen the most sublime/enjoyable text in the world, all this while being both insightful and elucidative. This book is organised as ten "scientific american" cover article length (maybe slightly longer) chapters, all of whom stand on their own, but to receive a cohesive picture of the grandeur (of evolution) one must be read it in series. Each chapter gives a whistle-stop tour about the scientific literature and co...more
Carol Ryan
Nick Lane has taken on, among other things, the origin and evolution of all life on earth, in his book Life Ascending: The Ten Great Inventions of Evolution.

I have to admit I set myself a goal of reading the book because the rest of my family: my dad and two brothers had already read it. I haven’t opened a book about the physical sciences in years and I began to wonder why. In researching the book before I bought it, I discovered reviewers loved it. But, there was something else that bothered me...more
Alison Dellit
This book isn't the easiest read, particularly if you, like me, have no background in chemistry and scarcely remember cellular biology. Lane explains each new concept/word as it is introduced, but also introduces them rapid fire, so keeping each in your head in increasingly dense sentences becomes difficult. No doubt had I found the analogies useful, this would have been off-set, but unusually (based on other reviews) I found them often not quite exact enough to be useful, and sometimes off-base...more
Ioannis Savvas
Ο Nick Lane είναι βιοχημικός και το βιβλίο του Life Ascending κέρδισε το Royal Society Prize for Science Books για το 2010. Διαβάζοντας πρόσφατα ένα φρικτό βιβλίο εκλαϊκευμένης επιστήμης, η σύγκριση είναι αναπόφευκτη. Ο Nick Lane συνθέτει μια συμφωνία επιστημονικών δεδομένων για να παρουσιάσει ένα καταπληκτικό μουσικό έργο με πρωταγωνιστή την Εξέλιξη. Ο συγγραφέας επιλέγει τις δέκα σημαντικότερες «εφευρέσεις» της Εξέλιξης και συνθέτει δέκα κεφάλαια κλιμακωτά. Βήμα-βήμα ανεβαίνει την εξελικτική π...more
Rachael (RachaelReviewsAll)
Life Ascending is an excellent scientific book on evolution. I was a bit weary picking it up, as evolution has never been one of my favourite topics to read about, but I was pleasantly surprised by this. However, I would only recommend this if you are prepared to spend a lot of reading time mulling over the past bits you have read.

Lane presents a fascinating account of the most important contributors to modern life and how they evolved. It's exceptionally in-depth, and is very well reasoned an...more
Stephen
For my money, few subjects are as impressive, beautiful, and awe-inspiring as biology and evolution. Is there a greater drama in the cosmos outside the long play of life, its actors emerging epoch by epoch -- many vanishing into the darkness once more, but not before leaving their mark upon those that follow them? The thought that the immense and varied mass of life on this earth, so rich as to beggar description, is ultimately unified by common ancestry still staggers me. Earth's history of lif...more
Brian Powell
This is a fun journey through the major achievements of evolution that paved the way for complex, sentient life. Lane's presentation is entertaining with about the right amount of technical coloring.

Lane's "inventions" are interesting because they all tend to evade easy explanation. Throughout the investigations of these inventions, we come across many provocative ideas regarding: the origin of the nucleus (proposed as a means of giving the cell more time to remove damaging DNA before translati...more
Nathan
I don't envy authors who choose to write about biology. Of all the sciences, it lacks the rules and models that make chemistry and physics so enticing. In those subjects, we have the dance of planets generated from the simple inverse square law of gravity, the solved mystery of wave-particle duality, the puzzle pieces of have-electrons need-electrons chemical bonds. But in all those cases, we know what's going on and why--there are rules, there's a reason goddamnit.

And then there's biology. Biol...more
Henry de Malmanche
Fascinating read. A remarkable synthesis of multiple lines of evidence providing plausible explanations for nature's greatest achievements in evolution. Very engaging, packed with metaphors and allusions and I did enjoy Lane's sense of humour. Might be a bit heavy going without some exposure to modern biology, but perfect for me. The chapter on the origin of life was very interesting indeed. Highly recommended for anyone with an interest in science. I've also read Nick Lane's Power, Sex, Suicide...more
Sara
I'm not finished yet, but already I want to recommend this book.

I bought it thinking it was going to be a pretty light read that would likely rehash a lot of what I knew about biology. I was wrong.

First, the book is a lot more dense and technical than I anticipated. But it's worth pushing through the more complex ideas: I ended up learning a lot! I think the author does a decent job with guiding you through complex ideas without losing you. The book is well-structured and the ideas seem to flo...more
Ian
Really well written and although it deals with some fairly complex - for me - concepts and theories, it all hung together. It is also quite chatty in style with some gossipy bits about the scientists involved in the research.The books chapters worked for me - starts with smallest units of life , the cell and finishes with a chapter on the evolutionary importance of death. Whilst there is a little politics hidden away its not a blatant all out attack on creationists or anyone else and that did ma...more
Lucas Miller
The most technical of the many science/biology books I've read to date--not for those who hated biology class.

It was particularly good on the theories origins of life/DNA, photosynthesis, and eukaryotic cells. Not so great on consciousness (I think it's hard to make a case that that is one of the greatest "inventions" of evolution from the overall picture of life) and death (really a chapter about how we can avoid the degenerations/infirmations of old age--SPOILER: eat less).

I thought I had, a...more
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Science of evolution 1 21 Jan 20, 2010 08:55AM  
  • Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters
  • Endless Forms Most Beautiful: The New Science of Evo Devo and the Making of the Animal Kingdom
  • At the Water's Edge: Fish with Fingers, Whales with Legs, and How Life Came Ashore but Then Went Back to Sea
  • Life: A Natural History of the First Four Billion Years of Life on Earth
  • Microcosmos: Four Billion Years of Microbial Evolution
  • What Evolution Is
  • Only a Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America's Soul
  • Darwin's Armada: Four Voyages and the Battle for the Theory of Evolution
  • Written in Stone: Evolution, the Fossil Record, and Our Place in Nature
  • The Epigenetics Revolution
  • Darwin's Island: The Galapagos In The Garden Of England
  • When Life Nearly Died: The Greatest Mass Extinction of All Time
  • Where the Wild Things Were: Life, Death, and Ecological Wreckage in a Land of Vanishing Predators
  • The Structure of Evolutionary Theory
  • Why Evolution Is True
  • Evolution in Four Dimensions: Genetic, Epigenetic, Behavioral, and Symbolic Variation in the History of Life
  • Evolution for Everyone: How Darwin's Theory Can Change the Way We Think About Our Lives
  • The Beak of the Finch: A Story of Evolution in Our Time
Power, Sex, Suicide: Mitochondria and the Meaning of Life Oxygen: The Molecule That Made the World Leben - Verblüffende Erfindungen der Evolution Life in the Frozen State Origins of Life. How Life Began. Abiogenesis, Astrobiology

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